Friday, September 16, 2011

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I Don’t Recycle Bottles

I don’t recycle bottles. I won’t, in fact, recycle bottles.

In 21st century California, the idea is almost indefensible. Some would argue that it smacks of sociopathy. Recycling is, after all, a duty of responsible citizens, of those who care about our environment and who want to leave the world in a better condition than they found it. Of stewards.

My guess is that those who think so have never apprehended an intruder in their homes, an intruder who used innocuous bottles as part of his break-in strategy.

I have. Unarmed and in a towering rage, I cornered a man who had broken into our bedroom. It changed how I handle arms and home security. Not recycling bottles is one of the new things I do.

I'll soak a bottle. But recycle? Fuck that.
Earlier this year, while working in my home office, I heard a noise about 9:30 one morning, a sort of clumsy crash and a muffled thud. At first, I thought the cat had knocked over something. Odd. She’s usually quite graceful. I rose from my desk, but then saw that the cat, her tail all bushed out, was staring intently down the hall. I knew immediately that she hadn’t caused the noise...and that something was wrong. Furtive sounds in the bedroom told me that whatever was wrong was also alive. I paused to isolate the sounds, pictured exactly where they were coming from, and stepped in.

Say what you will about the appeal of finding an unfamiliar man in your bedroom, but if you haven’t invited him, understand that whatever is about to happen is not good.

A crackhead, his clothes blackened with grime, had popped the screen to one of our windows and used it to get in. Broad daylight. Bennett was his name. He’s in jail now. The detective handing the case told me that Bennett had a long history of breaking and entering homes. His favored access point was the series of alleys that run behind so many San Diego houses. All of these alleys have trash and recycling bins. One of his routines was to pretend to scrounge for bottles, while in reality, checking to see if anyone was home. The bottles gave a reasonable cover for someone who had no legitimate reason to be there.

Got him.
Not long after, I caught another man. Again, broad daylight. Again, filthy and unkempt. As I approached the back of our house after the gym one morning, the gate slammed and a guy bolted, his head down, a sudden speed walker. A quick scan confirmed that our windows were still shut, our door unforced. Then I hauled after him, yelling. I wanted every neighbor to hear me and I wanted him so rattled that he never came back. Chased him for a block and a half. Afterwards, I found the Dumpster lunch he had stashed outside the gate and, a little further away, a thick branch, freshly torn off a small tree, tucked against our wall. A tool? A weapon?

Yeah. I know. We should move. We’re looking at houses. Have been since the break-in.

But in the meanwhile, here’s the deal: recycling bins attract scavengers who cull bottles and cans to get the cash deposit. While I didn’t love the idea of strangers rummaging through ours, I could sympathize. That’s a hard life and, until this year, I never begrudged the clearly needy the meager forty or fifty cents they’d get by taking our empty whiskey bottles. The overwhelming majority of trash pickers want nothing more than to take away our discards and to do so in peace.

The day I realized, however, that a bin of bottles provides perfect cover for an intruder — even one — to scope out my home was the day I decided our bottle recycling was over.

I reuse bottles. I repurpose them. I give some to a local business that turns them into useful things. I’ve cut down on the number of bottles we go through. And I’ll recycle all the cardboard and paper that comes my way.

But I’ll be damned if I ever put another bottle out behind our house.

Goes well with:
[Update 10/13/12: Last December, I bought an old Craftsman home near Balboa Park in San Diego.The new house has a dedicated recycling bin behind a secured gate. We're recycling again, fulfilling a civic duty. I do, however, still sleep with a weapon handy. That's not likely to change.]


Todd Price said...

Kind of let down by the ending. I figured you were now keeping bottles around to smash over intruders. I was expecting blood and broken glass, not sensible advice!

Matthew Rowley said...

Todd ~ I got a house full of books; there's no room for empties. I do, however, know a lot more about shotguns that I had known a year ago. Also: baseball bats. Went shopping for one and was surprised: when did they all start having divots at the business end?